For Heaven’s Sake – be yourself: restoring spontaneity



Part of finding out who one is involves journeying back to childhood and infancy to analyse how we were moulded and coerced – how our spontaneity and creativity were subdued, or even our capacity to play extinguished. This is something that Margaret Little describes so well. Is this also a spiritual journey? – yes of course – we owe it to ourselves and to God to find out our true self.

Donald Winnicott understood that when adult patients regress there is a need for someone to be there and to take responsibility. ‘Without sentimentality he was able to feel about, with, and for his patient, entering into and sharing an experience in such a way that emotion which had had to be damned up could be set free.’

DW asked Margaret Little ‘why do you always cry silently’ – she told him she had learnt that early on. Once as a child with toothache she was told: ‘Do stop crying, darling, you make everyone else miserable’, and next morning when the abscess had burst in the night and the pain was gone, ‘You see it was all a fuss about nothing.’ And often, ‘cheer up darling! You’ll soon be dead!’  This made DW very angry when he heard it, and he responded: ‘I really hate your mother.’

After being in therapy for some time, Little for the first time in her life exploded at her mother – who had been jibing her – Little writes:

I told her exactly what I felt: that she was being unkind and ridiculous … and a great deal more … quite regardless of any effect on her. DW’s comment was: ‘You’ve owed it to yourself for a long time’.

The mother then wrote to Little ‘making an outrageous demand; my ‘explosion’ was ignored and made useless, her possession of me reasserted.’ Furious by this response, Little on a long walk broke her ankle, later writing: ‘when she [her mother] reasserted her hold over me after my “explosion” something had to break and it was my own ankle’ – But as Little reflects: ‘It was an important spontaneous self-assertion which had never been possible before and although I did not see her again until she was dying, two years later, I have never regretted it.’

The way DW worked – to go at the pace that was needed and only rarely putting on pressure allowed Little to start to be herself. He gave very few interpretations and only at the point where the matter could become conscious, so then it rang true, and he often spoke speculatively. Psyche and soma were for DW not separable: ‘they were body and spirit which deep down are interdependent aspects of the same reality.’ As the eight year-long therapy entered its end phase, DW made an important interpretation which for Margaret Little was a revelation.

He told me that such fear of annihilation as I felt belonged to ‘annihilation’ that had already happened: I had been annihilated psychically, but had in fact survived bodily, and was now emotionally reliving the past experience. … ‘Dread is only memory in the future tense’.

In commenting on the analysis Little describes how after it ended, she continued in self-analysis – going over what she experienced with DW.

I have had success and failure, pleasure and pain, in both my professional and personal life and have found life worth living as it had scarcely been before … The overriding feeling is one of deep and lasting gratitude, for DW enabled me to find and free ‘my true self’, my spontaneity, creativeness and ability to play; he restored my sanity without leaving me ‘only sane’.